The malign role played by Facebook in the deplorable case of the Landmark Motor Inn should not be ignored.
People with grudges who express their resentment through false and prejudicial statements are common. But without the powerful platform that allowed their amplification, the false statements made about the Landmark would have had little effect.
Facebook provides that powerful publishing platform, and as we have seen in the case of the Landmark Motor Inn, even when statements violate its own rules, the company does nothing.
Some unknown person or persons hijacked a Facebook page set up in 2017 to promote the motel and used it to attack the new owner, Shawn Asghar. He didn’t know about the page and doesn’t have the password for it.
Posts have been made on the page under the username “Landmark Motor Inn” that say “Don’t stay here!” and attack Asghar as a “Pakistani with no respect for the USA.” Asghar is a longtime American citizen who lives in the Albany area and was born in Pakistan.
Asghar represents the best of our country. He is a hard-working immigrant who has made the most of the opportunities he has found here. He is a model for what is promoted as “the American dream.”
Whoever it is who put up these posts represents the worst of our country, the small-mindedness and bigotry and anger that has always bubbled within the population — the antithesis of our “melting pot” ideal.
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But Facebook and other online publishing platforms are a new presence intruding on and influencing our community dialogues, and these companies are both irresponsible and impossible to hold to account.
Facebook’s own “community standards” require that anyone posting as a business actually represent that business. But even though the company has been notified of the violation of this rule and has been asked to take down the fake Landmark Motor Inn page, it has not done so.
Facebook is a publisher. It sells ads on its publishing platform, and it provides a place for users to put up content. Like The Post-Star, like any other publisher, it is responsible for that content. It is especially responsible for assuring that its publishing platform is not misused by people misrepresenting themselves as other people or businesses in order to damage them.
This local case, as wrong and hurtful as it is, is just one among millions of misleading representations being published by Facebook every day, causing untold personal damage and, as we saw with the 2016 elections, even destabilizing our national processes and institutions.
Facebook has enormous resources — so enormous that the $3-$5 billion fine the company expects to receive soon from the Federal Trade Commission has been described as the “equivalent of a parking fine.” Facebook has the technological ability and money to police its platform, but it chooses not to.
The wrongs that have been done to Shawn Asghar were done by individuals, most likely by local people nursing a grudge. But they were abetted by Facebook, which is doing the same thing in myriad circumstances across the country, undermining the ties that bind us together as friends, families and as a nation.